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Weekly Word

Entries in Failure (3)

Friday
Feb192016

Jesus Warns His Disciples

Although the disciples are arguing over which of them should be considered the greatest, in truth they are all about to do something quite the opposite of greatness.  They are about to fail in their trust of Jesus.  Yes, they had successfully followed Jesus so far.  However, in the next 24 hours they would flee from Jesus and hide, broken and fearful.  It is this universal rejection of Jesus by enemies and friends that ought to help us understand why the Lord does not accept good works, but instead will only accept faith.  He is not looking for those who are “great” neither as the world defines it nor as his followers define it.  Instead he is looking for those who will believe in his greatness regardless of the circumstances and to the end of their life.  Even this, the disciples all fail.  Yet, the Lord isn’t looking for a faith that has never fallen, but one that has been through storms, ups and downs, and yet returns to him.  The Lord is warning us in this passage to quit looking at our greatness and pay attention to the battle that is waging all around us.

Satan Has Asked To Test Them

In the next 24 hours Jesus will be arrested, run through a bogus trial, and publicly executed.  Jesus knows this and is speaking in order to prepare them for their own failures.  The disciples do not understand the gravity of what is happening, but the Lord does.  It is here that we need to remind ourselves that our strength is not in what we are, but in what the Lord is building in us.  We need to remind ourselves that even in our failures (perhaps especially so) the Lord is building up our faith in him.  Satan is moving to attack Jesus and destroy all that he is trying to do.  Yet, notice that Jesus reveals that Satan has asked to do this.  Who is he asking?  Although Jesus doesn’t say, it is apparent he means the Father.  Satan must ask permission to test God’s people.  This is revealed in the first two chapters of the book of Job.  Why would God allow such tests?  He does so to prove that our faith is genuine.  So what about the times people fail?  Even this can take a faith that is either disingenuous or weak and help it to be rebuilt on a proper foundation.  No matter how difficult we are tested, we are not at the mercy of the Devil.  If God is allowing you to go through a trial, He will bring you out the other side, and there is a way for you to be stronger.  It is in letting go of you and clinging to him through faith.

Satan has asked to sift them like wheat.  This metaphor is used to picture the process of testing their faith.  When wheat is sifted it is first beat and pounded in order to break apart the hard shell that surrounds it.  This chaff is then removed in one way or another.  Here a mesh of sorts would be used that would allow the small pieces of chaff to fall through, but the good wheat would stay on top.  Humans sift wheat in order to make its cooking and eating a better experience.  However, the Devil has a different purpose in mind.

He intends to prove that they are nothing but chaff.  He is going to pound and beat their faith through the circumstances ahead and he believes that they will all turn out like Judas.  He is going to keep at it until he wins or you die.  We see this in the book of Job.  After failing to get Job to quit trusting God, Satan complains that Job is only serving God because God has protected him physically.  “Skin for skin,” Satan accusingly says to God.  He goes on to declare, “But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”  He hates faith.  He wants nothing to be left for the Lord at the end of this testing.  He comes for nothing but to steal, kill, and destroy our faith.  This warning is not just for Job or Peter and the disciples.  It is for all who will try to follow Jesus.  If Satan thinks there is a chance that you have true faith in Jesus, He is going to come after you one way or another to try and destroy it.  “Be sober; be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”  1 Peter 5:8-9 (NKJV).  You do have chaff in your life.  But, you are not all chaff.  The Lord will bring you through all your times of testing and reward your faithfulness, if you keep turning back to him.

Jesus Has Prayed To Help Their Faith

Jesus has told Peter that Satan has asked to test them all.  But then Jesus tells Peter what he has asked for them.  As opposed to Satan, Jesus is not asking the Father to test us.  Instead, he is asking in prayer for our souls to endure all the tests that Satan brings our way.  He is asking that we will not fail even though we may have times of falling.

In this passage Jesus specifically tells Peter that he has prayed for him.  However, in John 17:9-11 we see that Jesus has and will pray for all of his disciples, including us.  Yet, here he zeros in on Peter.  Why?  Most likely because Peter has been the most vociferous in defending his own greatness.  Let me emphasize that this is speculation.  But, one cannot avoid the clear rebuke that is given to all the disciples, but especially to Peter.  Yes, Satan has asked for Peter by name so that he can test him.  But, Jesus has prayed for Peter by name.  We may not have Satan personally trying to test us (remember he is not omnipresent).  However, we do have evil spirits that are in league with him and do his bidding.    More than this, Jesus Christ is able to pray for every single one of His disciples, even now interceding on your behalf before the Father.  He is praying for your faith to endure.  As it says in Hebrews 7:25, “Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Clearly Peter’s faith is going to fail, but it will be for only a short time.  Jesus is not praying that our faith will be an invincible, superman-like faith that never even blinks.  I am not saying that Jesus could care less if we fail.  Yet, he knows that we will all have our times of doubt and fear in this flesh.  In fact, it will be in his failure that Peter learns to trust in the power of God rather than in the power of Peter.  We cannot give mere lip service to this.  We are made stronger when we listen to the words of Jesus and repel the attacks on our faith.  However, we are also made stronger when after failure, we humbly cast ourselves on the mercy of the Lord.  Jesus lets Peter know he will fail.  But then gives him the task of strengthening his brothers when he returns (back in faith).  Jesus know that Peter will return and even has a job for him.  The word “return” is connected to repentance and conversion.  Peter will turn from the Lord out of doubt during the crucifixion.  But he will also return to him in faith after the resurrection.  His brothers are going to go through the same tragic failure.  They will need to encourage each other.  Not make comparisons among them in order to determine who is greatest.  We need to help each other overcome the world by strengthening each other’s faith in Jesus.  Our times of failing the Lord and returning to him can be helpful to others.  Do not hide your failures in shame.  Rather, boldly declare to others that the Lord brought you through your failures.  Peter’s pride still resists what Jesus is trying to teach us all, and most likely so does mine.

Verses 33-34, puts the period on this lesson.  Peter tries one last attempt to declare how great his faith is.  Perhaps here we see why Jesus focuses on Peter.  His flesh is truly great.  But it is not that kind of greatness Jesus is seeking.  Peter has to quit clinging to the greatness that he wants to see in himself, and surrender to the greatness that the Lord wants to make in him.  None of the disciples wanted to follow a messiah who was going to be crucified.  They did not want to be the inner circle of a messiah who left the earth.  They did not want to be men who would travel the world teaching people to believe in a crucified Lord.  But this is his call.

Jesus puts the death nail in Peter’s pride by declaring that he will deny Christ within the next few hours.  Reality versus fantasy.  Perhaps you too cling to a fantasy that somehow you are different.  Let it go.  Hear the warning of the Lord.  Today the Gospel is being tested in our society and Jesus along with it.  Our Lord and His way of living is being crucified publicly by our culture and many others around the world.  Some are falling away from the Lord.  Others retreat from the real Jesus and create a fake Jesus so that they can feel strong in their faith.  However, our strength is not in our inability to fall.  Our strength is in the mercy and grace of our Lord.  We can repent and turn to him and he will receive us.  This is the type of Lord that we serve, and this is what we must hold out to a lost and dying world.

Jesus Warns His Disciples audio

Tuesday
May122015

Motherhood in Perspective

Today is Mother’s Day and as such we are going to talk about how important it is for mother’s to keep things in proper perspective.  By way of illustration I am going to read a short letter from a college student to her parents, which has no known origin.  By the way, this letter is not purported to be an actual letter, but was more than likely created to emphasize how perspective affects our outlook.  Here is the letter:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Just thought I’d drop you a note to clue you in on my plans.  I’ve fallen in love with a guy called Jim.  He quit high school after grade eleven to get married.  About a year ago he got a divorce.  We’ve been going steady for two months and plan to get married in the fall.  Until then, I’ve decided to move into his apartment (I think I might be pregnant).  At any rate, I dropped out of school last week, although I’d like to finish college sometime in the future.  (Letter continued on the next page)…

Mom and Dad, I just want you to know that everything I’ve written so far in this letter is false.  None of it is true.  But, Mom and Dad, it IS true that I got a C- in French and flunked my math class…and it IS true that I’m going to need some more money for my tuition payments.

Being a mom is a difficult task that presents a unique set of challenges.  Yet, it is easy to lose perspective about it.  What is it I am really supposed to do?  What is success and what is failure?  Today we are going to look at three phases of life for moms: before being a mother, during the child rearing years, and after the kids leave the house.

Is Motherhood To Be Desired?

Over the last century being a mother has come to be a despised thing in some circles.  Whether it is Margaret Sanger calling for a 10 year moratorium on child births in the 1940’s or modern arguments that refer to motherhood as an enemy to women, a mom and dad raising a kid have much to overcome.  So, for a young woman, a very serious question to wrestle with is this: Is motherhood to be desired?  Is it some ancient form of slavery and restriction of women?  Does it necessarily ruin your professional and marital life?

Now before we deal with this question, I want to recognize that there are many women who, for one reason or another, have not or cannot have children.  I do not intend to diminish the difficulties of desiring to give birth to a child and being told you can’t.  Let me just say to those who are in that situation, trust God and talk with Him about your desires.  He may have something different for you that can be just as rewarding, whether becoming a foster parent, simply blessing kids around you, or mothering children spiritually.  So don’t make the act of birthing a baby of your own, the end all, of life and purpose.

Let’s go back to the question of the desirability of being a mother.  In Genesis 1:27-28, we see that motherhood is part of God’s design for women.  A man and woman coming together in a committed relationship to create the next generation is part of God’s design of humanity.  Whatever motherhood is, women were designed for it and it is not just a good thing, it is a God thing.

We also see in this Genesis passage that God refers to this process with the metaphor of being fruitful.  This is a powerful picture because no one would say that a tree without fruit is useless, and yet a tree that has fruit is something quite different altogether.  Throughout the Bible fruitfulness is more than physically giving birth to a child.  It is at its core a giving of life.  Yes, a child is birthed.  But it must be cared for and nurtured for it to be able to come to a point where it can live on its own.  Thus a woman’s fruitfulness is more than giving birth.  It is her ability to come alongside of another and give life to them.  This can be done regardless of one’s ability to conceive.  In fact the case can be made that the physical fruitfulness becomes a curse if the higher fruitfulness of physical and spiritual nurturing is neglected.  Rotten teens are not an argument against raising children.  They are an argument against the lack of a higher order of birthing that must happen.  The conception to birth process can be seen as an analogy of the higher order process that brings a child from birth into adult society.

In Psalm 127:3-4 we are told that children are an inheritance from the Lord.  In other words it is a portion that he has for many women that they can enjoy and tend to it.  It is not the only possible inheritance for women in life (If you are unable to have children recognize that God has an inheritance for you).  But neither should it be slighted as undesirable.

Motherhood is something that is good and desirable.  Take time to walk with God and He will make it clear if you are to be a mother or not.  Don’t lose perspective of the fact that you will come to the end of your life and there will be no going back.  Yes, we all have regrets, but don’t wall yourself off from motherhood without first spending the time in prayer to seek God’s will.

Am I A Failure As A Mother?

Once a woman has had a child, or more, it is very common to be plagued with doubts as to your success at it.  In fact they are very rarely doubts.  Generally you may feel quite sure that you have failed at it.  In Psalm 119:105, we are told that the Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Thus, if you feel that you are a failure and don’t know what to do, turn to God for wisdom.  Let His Word shed light on what you should do. 

James picks up on this in James 1:5.  However, he not only counsels us to let God’s Word be a light to our path, but also counsels us to pray and ask for it.  Reading God’s Word is the content side, but we also have a spiritual and emotional side.  Spend time in prayer asking for wisdom to raise your child.  On top of this we can take our anxieties and worries, and put them in God’s hands because we know that He cares for us both emotionally and practically.

Now here are some rapid-fire encouragements that all of us know, but need to hear often.  Be realistic in how you judge yourself.  We can expect far too much of ourselves and our children.  In fact, a unrealistic expectation can make our “failures” even worse, by an unhealthy emphasis on perfection.  Relax and realize that you are not God.  There is only so much that you can do.  God does not expect you to be super-mom.  But you can be a supernatural mom by relying on God for His help.

Also, learn to prioritize.  Priorities help you to decide between what is going to get done and what isn’t.  Being a parent is one of those jobs that is never done and you’re always on the clock.  Many things that we see as failures are simply our limitations as a human.  You can’t do everything and God doesn’t expect it from you.  Prayerfully set priorities that make the really important things primary and the not so important things tertiary at best.

Another important thing is to find some friends that can understand what it means to be a mother.  The power of being able to talk with someone who understands us cannot be underestimated.  Don’t wall yourself off from others because you are such a “miserable failure.”  Isolation can make a person feel lonely even when they are surrounded by family.  So purposefully counteract it by seeking out friends who are raising kids themselves.  Alongside this, you can pray for God to lead you to a good mentor who is further along in life, a seasoned mom who can help you gain perspective.  In the now it feels like it is never going to end.  But a mom who has raised her kid can help keep you encouraged.  Normally this would be your mom and/or grandma.  But if this isn’t an option for you, don’t sit there.  Proactively seek out a mentor.

Lastly, moms, trust God.  Ultimately this is what we all have to do.  Many kids have come from horrible homes and grown up to become amazing servants of God and society.  So clearly you don’t have to be perfect for them to become all God wants them to be.  However, this is not an advocacy for not even caring.  You will have to give account to God for how you raised your kids, but not in the perfectionist way that you often do to yourself.  Your kid is going to grow up and make their own decisions.  You will be a powerful influence on them, but yet only an influence.  It doesn’t take perfection to do a good job; it just takes a love that is willing to be perfected.  “Lord, teach me to love my kids as You would have me!”

What now?

It is called the empty nest syndrome.  Some people look forward to the empty nest with far too much glee and, yet, others dread it with far too much gloom and depression.  A hyper-desire for what is down the road can adversely affect our actions in the now.  No, you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be engaged in the here and now.  Emotional abandonment can be a very heavy thing to place upon the shoulders of a child.  On the other hand, those who are depressed over the emptying of their nest can develop an unhealthy selfishness and lack of faith that God has other good things ahead for you.  If God gave you kids to enjoy then He will be faithful to give you things to enjoy at the next stage.  Yes, all you have known for the last 20-30 years is suddenly gone and you face an unknown future.  But you have been there before.  The same God who has led you to this point has a plan forward.  Take His hand and rejoice!

We see such attitude in Hebrews 11:24-27.  Moses is given a task by God.  He knew what was being asked on the macro-level.  But there was much ahead that required trusting God.  Surrender to the next stage and let God lead you forward just as God led Moses.  There is a reward ahead.  This highly transitional time can go in many different directions and will definitely go through several transitions.  Some of them will be your choices, and yet, some of them may not.  Many a couple has emptied the nest only to immediately be presented with failing parents who need their care.  Or perhaps you have an adult child who has special needs and will never be able to live on their own.  Many things can lie ahead: grandkids, travel, new professions, hobbies, and expanded horizons.  No one thing is necessary for you to have a full and rewarding life.  The only thing you really need is to trust God as He leads you into the next phase of your life.

Let me close with a passage in Titus 2:1-4.  Here Paul encourages the older women to help the younger women to see the importance of loving their husbands and children.  Though he doesn’t use this word, I would see this as mentoring.  You have alot of experience that you can share with younger women.  It should not come across as a “know-it-all” attitude.  In fact mentoring is not so much about showing a young mother what she is doing wrong (this can short-cut her own learning and developing process).  At its heart is one woman telling another woman that, if she will lean on Jesus, she will be woman enough to meet the daunting things in her life.  Encourage them and keep them trusting in Jesus and His wisdom.  And, a practical tip from time to time won’t hurt at all ;)

Motherhood in Perspective audio

Monday
Jun162014

Stepping In His Steps

This weekend is Father’s Day and so I want to look at several verses in Psalm 37:23-24.  When Jesus called his disciples he used a certain phrase, “Come, follow me.”  Those who responded became his disciples.  Notice that this same thing is happening today, 20 centuries later.  Of course, Jesus is not physically here calling people.  But, the Holy Spirit is speaking to the hearts of individuals and through the lives of believers to call out to this world, “Come, follow me.”

Yet, this call to follow Jesus would be like asking a child to follow a professional rock climber.  Without help we are unable to follow Jesus.  Today’s passage makes it clear that those who respond to the call to follow Jesus are not left to do it in their own strength.  Rather, they are helped by God Himself.

The Good Man Fights the Good Fight

Verse 23 starts out by referring to a “good man.”  The word translated as good is a term that can also mean strong, as in strong for battle.  Because the context is not about physical strength it gets translated as “good” as in morally strong.  Perhaps it may be better to see it as strong in faith because that is what is in contention.  It is clearly a righteous man who trusts in the Lord that is in view.  In fact the whole chapter is a treatise regarding the righteous and the unrighteous.  So this is a good man, a man strong in his faith toward God. 

We see the Apostle Paul speaking of this in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  He has been a strong warrior for the Lord.  The good fight is not fought with physical strength, but with spiritual strength.

Our battle is not with atheists and other religions.  Rather, our battle is first of al with our own self.  The flesh has a powerful way of justifying its lusts and desires.  If we do not restrain it, it will pull us down into a quagmire of serving self.  We also battle against the corrupting influence of this world.  Its culture, institutions, systems and powers are difficult obstacles to overcome in the arena of faith.  Also, we have a spiritual enemy in the devil and his evil spirits.  They operate mainly through deception and temptation.  These three areas of Self, World, and the Devil take a man who is strong for battle.

Of course, none of us are able to conquer these three areas.  Only Jesus has been able to do that.  He is the ultimate warrior.  He has done what none of us could do.  However, this enables us to follow him.  When we stick close to Jesus and put our steps into his steps we will be able to have victory in these areas.  We will talk more about this later.

The Good Man Gets Direction From The Lord

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  So in Psalm 37 we are told that the Lord “orders” the steps of a man who trusts him.  Our paths or steps are a picture of the decisions and actions that we do in life.  Put in order we walk a certain way.  Now there really are only two ways in life.  God’s way will lead us to life. But “my” way will lead me to death.  Even if “my” way involves following someone that we look up to, other than Jesus, it is still headed in the same direction.  Yet, believers find that when we try to follow Jesus our way becomes a mixture of veering off the path of Jesus and then course correcting to get back in line.  This may seem futile, but recognize that God is able to direct us through it all.  He is not trying to control our every step so much as inform our every step.  Do you get your directions from Jesus?  Perhaps you wonder how that is possible.

We have the commands and example of Christ given to us in the New Testament.  We also have a powerful instructive picture in the Old Testament that helps us to understand who Jesus really is.  Thus his directions, in general, are given in the Bible.  As you read the Bible you will see that Christ does not call us anywhere that he hasn’t gone himself.  So if we cast off his commands and example we are trusting in our own thinking or the thinking of someone else.  The problem here is not that we are thinking.  Note in Proverbs 3:5-6 that we are only warned against leaning (i.e. putting all your weight upon) on our own understanding.  Yes we have questions and fears.  But we shouldn’t put our weight upon those things.  Instead we should trust the lord.  If we are truly listening, God will lead us and give direction to our path.  He will not force us.  He wants us to follow out of our own heart.  But know this, His direction will give you sure footing on treacherous ground.

The Good Man Is A Delight To God

You may not be particularly excited about your life right now, but God is.  He delights in our trust even when it is the trust of a spiritual babe.  He knows that it will grow and become the trust of a strong man of faith in time.

He also delights in the future to which He is bringing us.  He is leading us to a wonderful goal both in this life and in the life to come.  He sees the end that we cannot see yet and He is delighted in anticipation of the joys we shall have together.  Even when we are told the end goal, we cannot truly grasp how it will come about and what it will be like.  Thus it is our joy to delight in the discovery and realization of those things along with Him.

What about our failures?  Surely God doesn’t delight in us when we have failed.  The reality is that none of us will make it into eternity without having failed.  Only Jesus is the perfect warrior against sin.  God can see over the top of our failures to the person we are going to become.  He loves us, not just in spite of our failures.  In fact, our trust and love become more precious and more of a delight because it is over the top of cuts and bruises in this life.  Our trust becomes that much more precious, which brings us to the point of verse 24.

The Good Man Is Supported When He Falls

God promises to help us when we fall morally.  He knows that our frame is frail and that we are but dust.  This is precisely why He has pledged Himself to help us.  If you put your trust in Jesus, you will make it, period.

We might ask our self why we fell.  Did I fall because I desired sin?  Or, did I fall because someone else sinned against me and I couldn’t let it go?  Perhaps I merely lack skill in a particular area that he enemy is attacking and I am learning to follow Jesus.  Whatever the reason, Jesus knows your difficulties.  If you look to Him and cry out in the time of need, he will help you.

Notice verse 24 says that though a man fall, he will not be cast out.  It is one thing to fall, but quite another to never get up again.  Everyone who has fallen reaches that moment when they realize that they have survived and need to get up, and in fact must.  Can you imagine if the first time you fell off your bicycle you just quit trying ever again?  Though it sounds silly, what if you never got up off the ground and continued to cry and get angry for years on end?  Things that don’t happen in the natural often happen spiritually.  Many people are still laying in the road of some misfortune long ago and, instead of getting up, they just lay there refusing to move on.  Please know this, God is not looking for an excuse to get rid of you or throw you away.  He knows you will fail and He is committed to helping you get up and keep riding until you get it.  However, you must want to get back up and keep trusting Him.  People may cast you aside, but Jesus has pledged, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  And, that means even when you fail.

In fact, the Lord promises in verse 24 to support us by His own hand.  Allstate insurance can only do so much for you.  But there are far better hands in this world and they are God’s.  The support or bracing of the Lord holds us up so that we do not fail beyond recovery.  Of course we may not want to fall and wish God would keep that from happening.  However, we will never learn if God protects us from the effects of our decisions.  The hand is the symbol of power.  The power of God is Jesus.  He is the hand of God that has come down to save us.  When you trust in those hands they will lift you up through this life and through times of failure and bring you out the other side.  Jesus does this through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s purpose is to come alongside of us and provide the help that we need.  If this is His purpose then He is also working in believers to be such a help to other believers.  I point this out because in engineering bracing is always done through triangles.  Thus God supports us directly by his Holy Spirit and indirectly through other believers.  This triangle of God, You, and Other believers is magnified by the multitude of relationships we can have with other believers.  Let the Lord support you.  If you aren’t a part of a group of believers that are trusting God and helping each other through life then you are missing a great part of how God intends to support you.

Now, the enemy wants you to stay down and refuse all help when you fall.  If you let him, he will get in your head and poison your thinking.  He will lead you to believe that it is impossible for God to love you because you have failed so badly.  In fact he only needs to insert the idea and walk away.  You will do all the work for him by trusting in what he says.  Don’t do that.  You will never recover from failure until you reject the lies of satan and believe the truth of God.  “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.”  It is not over.  God is not done with you yet.  Trust him.  Rise up and walk!

Stepping in His Steps Audio